• Helen Pickett
  • Helen Pickett
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Teaching Editorial

Consider Cézanne
Looking to Great Artists for Inspiration
Published in Dance Europe, April 2006
By Helen Pickett

What creates a dancer? Curiosity, Precision, Focus. The devotion to investigate and hone the art of dance. Consider Cézanne. As I finished reading the pages of an article* that recalled the greatness of this artist, I recognized his unquenchable desire to further his life-long love: his art and his craft. A continual curiosity and devotion kept him focused. Even six days before his death, he complained to his art dealer that he had not received his paints. Can the exploration of dance be completed in a lifetime? Would we want it to be? No. It is an ever-widening circle of discovery. For when a great dancer leaves the stage a fraction of the previous talent is carried forward into the disciple's art. It is the natural pathway of evolution. If you want to hone your dance technique and artistry, study your heroes with a passionate, discerning eye.

Cézanne was an iconoclast. He questioned. He found his way to greatness. There is no cookie cutter mould. The iconoclast will always be the one bending the rules. Visualize the greatness, the freshness, and the audacity of something new. Discovery is exciting and rewarding, although often hard won. It is a painstaking process to follow through with a love. But what else is there for those who love dance so much?

Change is an important initiator. Do not be afraid to relinquish yourself to it. The voices that tell us to settle, to save the question for later, to make excuses, are always there, but know they are quieted by perseverance and courage. You must be in constant conversation with the possibilities of your art.

Cézanne once said he would astonish Paris with a still life of an apple. Imagine. Dance is a study in delicate precision. We look, we study, we wonder. We carry on the art that we so love. Analyze the details of your art. Make a class combination a polished gem.

We read about the accomplished - the recognized. We strive for recognition ourselves. Someone recognizes us all. It might not be the someone we want it to be at that moment, but someone always sees us, appreciates us, and loves us. Those strong and supportive voices are there. You must listen for them. They must be stored in your psyche to placate the inner turmoil and let your art continue. Remember this when you feel defeated, and then look to whom you revere. Delve into the lives of your heroes and you will find struggle and courage and success. You will be ignited anew through their examples. This is the reason we look to our heroes for inspiration.

When we retire, we leave dance with the wish that we had more time. We want to do just a bit more. This is a call to all dancers to continue boldly, without compromise, so that you may go as far as humanly possible with the time you are given. You are the new, strong current in the eddy, whirling around, waiting to burst forward. This is the magic of dance. You are the future.

*Paul Trachtman, "The Obsessive Genius of Paul Cézanne," The Smithsonian (January 2006), Pgs. 80-88